Album Review: Childish Gambino - 'Camp'

US comedian Donald Glover has seriously good rhymes

  • Release Date 15 Nov, 2011
  • Producer Donald Glover, Ludwig Göransson
  • Record Label Glassnote
  • Fact He nearly got cast as the new Spider Man
Donald Glover – aka Childish Gambino –is well aware that he conforms to no-one’s idea of hip-hop ‘realness’. But then, as he points out, “All the real niggas I know are either crazy or dead”, so it’s hardly his loss. Raised a Jehovah’s Witness in a small Georgia suburb, Glover graduated from NYU and wound up working in television, landing a writing gig on 30 Rock and an acting one on Community. Last year, The Internet got this close to having him cast as the new Spider-Man, and next year he’ll be seen in the new Muppets movie. Hardly the stuff great hip-hop is made of, right?

Um, wrong. For starters, Glover is no dilettante: ‘Camp’ is his fourth full-lengther under his nom de rap (taken from a Wu Tang Clan name generator), and the best to date. For another thing, while he’s a gifted comedian, his focus is never really on being funny – just witty, heartfelt, honest and occasionally uproarious.

He’s been variously tagged as backpack and nerdcore, and you can kind of understand why: on ‘LES’, Glover skewers his own hipsterhood by describing a bathroom clinch with a girl who’s “Got ironic tattoos on her back/That ain’t ironic bitch, I love Rugrats”, before decreeing on ‘Hold You Down’ that “you’re not not-racist ’cos The Wire’s in your Netflix queue”. Pop-cultural references like that abound – his indie namechecks range from Mumford and Sons to Radiohead to Sufjan Stevens – but there’s also an emotional heart to songs like ‘Outside’ and the epic, seven-minute (and largely spoken-word) ‘That Power’ that can’t be expressed in air-quotes.

Why does every black actor gotta rap some?” Glover wonders on ‘Bonfire’, before concluding, “I don’t know, all I know is I’m the best one”. And that’s true, even if it’s not much of a claim. I’m about to make a bigger one on his behalf, though: fuck Tyler’s empty posturing, this is the hip-hop album of the year.

Barry Nicolson

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